The number of children affected by bullying is on the rise in Romania, according to teachers and NGOs, and extra measures, stipulated by law, are required, measures that should inform both children and parents about the phenomenon and the stages that have to be followed in order for it to be addressed.
This is the conclusion of the “Bullying of children diagnosed with chronic diseases” conference organized last Wednesday by the M.A.M.E. Association. In this sense, the representatives of the educational system consider that apart from punitive measures – such as lower conduct grades or expulsion, which are the most frequently seen in Romanian schools in such cases –, professional counselling and specific education measures are needed too.
Thus, bullying is a real problem in Romanian schools and the most affected are special needs children. In this sense, M.A.M.E. Association continues the campaign to prevent and combat the bullying phenomenon that affects children with chronic diseases and disabilities by supporting information workshops in schools and high schools in Bucharest and Ilfov County. So far, the organization’s specialists have visited 10 schools and have talked to approximately 1,000 students about accepting and integrating students with special needs, those diagnosed with chronic diseases as well as those with physical or intellectual disabilities.
“Approximately 60 per cent of the students that took part in the information sessions recounted real bullying situations they were directly involved in and over 40 per cent recounted situations that they witnessed. Unfortunately, special needs children that attend school suffer abuse under various forms: physical, verbal or emotional. Given the fact that the student is already waging a battle with the disease, he/she is forced to wage a battle with those around too, thus making recovery and social reintegration extremely difficult,” M.A.M.E. Association Founding President Maria Culescu, the initiator of the anti-bullying campaign, stated.
Negative effects extend into adulthood
Diana Simon, psychotherapist at the Stelutelor Centre, a social centre for support and recovery for children at risk, established by the M.A.M.E. Association, talked about the psychological impact that bullying can have on sick children. “The effects of bullying are damaging, and the psychological impact on the child’s later development is overwhelming. The students that suffer the aggression feel lonely, isolated and humiliated, most of the times showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, but also insomnia, headaches and stomachaches. Likewise, they lose self-confidence, as well as focus and the capacity to focus, which leads to low grades, a slump in school results, the refusal to attend school and even dropping out.”
Camelia S., the mother of a 13-year-old boy was present at the event too; because of his hearing problems, her son became the target of repeated aggression from his colleagues. “Nicusor was teased, insulted and even hit by his colleagues. Because he was not hearing very well, his colleagues treated him as if he was inferior to them and insulted him. That affected him very much.
He was getting poor grades, was permanently upset, dissatisfied, unhappy. We had to transfer him to another school and he had to undergo psychological therapy,” she said.
Unfortunately, Nicusor’s situation is not a singular case. According to UNICEF International, Romania is the European country with the highest number of students (ages 11-15) who bully other colleagues.
Presence of counsellors should be mandatory in every school
“One of the commissions that are active in school is that of combating discrimination. It has to supervise these cases. Alongside the commission on combating violence. These are two commissions that actually have to follow the legislative steps. At the same time, apart from the legislative steps it has to focus on collaborating with all factors involved in solving this problem,” stated Vlad Steluta, head teacher of middle school no.11 in Bucharest.
Asked whether she believes there are legislative shortcomings, from the point of view of a teacher and head teacher, in what concerns the way bullying is addressed, she stated that at this moment the coercive measures stipulated by the law currently in force do not always pay off and there is room for improvement.
“They lower his conduct grade, but the child continues to do the same thing. This is where the problem is. This is where we need help. To know what we can actually do to correct the child because it is clear these coercive measures are not always good. As head teacher, I can state this very clearly. And what am I supposed to do with a first grader whose conduct grade I lower? I cannot do anything to be honest. Because he doesn’t understand anything out of this. Only collaboration between parents and teachers is left,” Vlad Steluta stated.
She added that the problem of violence in schools is well known at ministerial level and that meetings between the head teachers of educational establishments and representatives of the Education Ministry and of the gendarmerie or police are taking place but there is room for improvement in the legislative framework.
In what concerns the actual changes that can be made at legislative level, school inspector Elena Stefan pointed out that it would be very important to introduce a psychological therapist in every school so that he can engage in individual counselling with the violent child even without his parents’ consent, consent that is currently required by law.
“There have to be counsellors. The need is felt. Because if the parent doesn’t have time to talk with his own child, the latter feels the need to talk and becomes violent because he isn’t listened to, he has no one to listen to him, he has very low self-esteem,” the school inspector emphasised.
Moreover, she reminded that “at present there is no sanction that can be applied to the parent that does not take care of the child.”
“The contract between the school and the parent does not help as long as no legal form is found in order for the parent to be really responsible for the child’s education, alongside the school, we cannot solve anything. A legislative solution has to be found so that the parent would really be responsible for this too.”
The campaign for the prevention and combating of bullying among students will continue in March too, through information workshops in 5 high schools in Bucharest. The campaign is part of the activities carried out by M.A.M.E. Association as part of the project dubbed “Stelutelor Centre – social support and recovery centre for children at risk,” a project financed through SEE 2009-2014 grants as part of the NGO Fund in Romania.